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Once Upon a Christmas

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Snow had only just started to fall in Storybrooke several days ago, but some of the residents still behaved as though it was their first time to see it. Archie pranced around and gleefully pointed at the windows, making faces at the baby in Ashley’s arms. Meanwhile, Ariel, eternally a literal fish-out-of-water, gawked at everything as she always did. Mulan and Aurora, almost as clueless but at least not as aggravatingly so, were with Emma, no doubt being given another explanation about this holiday. Ruby was gesturing animatedly, telling Belle some story or another. Leroy and one of the fairies were awkwardly standing under a mistletoe and exchanging idiotic grins. 

Regina rolled her eyes as she sat in the far corner of the town hall, watching the blessed and wonderful Snow White strut around with her glass bowl full of everyone’s names, regaining their attention whenever it wandered, reminding them of this task at hand. Charming followed like a dopey puppy, praising how well this event had been arranged.

Though Regina had been reinstated as mayor (something the dwarves had an unusually insistent say on), the golden prince and princess still had their habit of behaving like they ruled the town and it grated against her nerves.

Sniffling, Regina fought back a sneeze and stood up as Snow White approached.

"So…uh…" She fumbled with the bowl and held it close to her body, staring down and avoiding eye contact almost as though she hadn’t spent one of her lifetimes growing up with the baring and dignity of a princess.

With a forced change in posture, Snow straightened her back, extended the bowl and put on a grin that held questionable authenticity. “Happy Holidays!”

"Same to you." Regina tried not to reply in the dry tone that she did, but it kind of just happened. She reached in and picked out one of the little envelopes.

The golden couple hovered in front of Regina, awkwardly waiting for her to read the name in front of them.

The quiet between them was broken by a sneeze from Regina.

Snow and Charming gave her a nod and went over to shove their bowl into the next participant.

"Been sneezing a lot lately, haven’t you?" The pharmacist-dwarf chuckled at Regina in a way he never would have before the curse broke. Most of the dwarves had been behaving peculiarly ever since the return from Neverland and Regina didn’t quite like it but couldn’t deny that it was through their intervention that she was mayor again. "Maybe we should switch names for the holidays, eh?"

Regina delivered a forced laugh before ending with a solid, blunt, “No.”

"This guy bothering you?" Hands snaked their way around Regina’s waist and puffs of breath whispered in her ear, "Should I take you away from him, ma’am?"

Sneezy (or did he prefer Tom? They used their names so interchangeably these days, and not everyone chose to revert to their Enchanted Forest names or vice versa, it was still confusing.) left them alone with a good-natured chuckle.

"Your parents are watching." As much as Regina liked engaging in public displays of affection with her sheriff, the way the golden couple stared and judged tended to kill the mood.

Emma’s grip tightened, “The sooner they stop treating me like I’m fifteen, the sooner I’ll stop provoking them.”

"Acting like you’re fifteen so they’ll stop treating you like you’re fifteen sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it?"

"Shut up and make out with me while they’re still watching." 

 Biting her lip and squinting, Ruby took her time rifling through the bowl’s contents, lifting it slightly above the pile then putting it back. It sent the scents scattering through the bowl, but there would be an upward puff of an individual scent that told her whose little envelope she was holding.

"Ruby, why are you taking so long?" Belle asked, "I thought you said we should just pick one and that’s it."

"Whoaa!" Ariel came bounding over, "You’re actually doing it, aren’t you?”

Unable to restrain a cheeky wink and smile, Ruby said, “Maybe.”

"What’s she doing?" Snow’s face reverted back into that disapproving school teacher Mary Margaret face she sometimes still used. "What are you talking about?"

"I dared her to pick someone on purpose using her scenting skills." Ariel gave it away just as Ruby caught the twitch of a scent she couldn’t mistake as anyone’s other than Belle’s.

Something swatted the back of Ruby’s head, causing the envelope to slip through her fingers when she flinched.

Grumbling about how close she came to succeeding, Ruby turned to see her assailant, only to discover it was Granny, still brandishing a rolled up newspaper. “I’ll not have you ruining the spirit of this activity. Now just grab one without cheating.”

The stern tone left no room for argument. “Yes, Granny.” 

With Belle and Ariel teasing and giggling while Snow and Charming tut-tutted, Ruby obeyed her grandmother. She grabbed at the bowl blindly and just as her hand closed around one of the little envelopes and brought it to her chest, she knew without looking whose it was.

It wasn’t Belle, but it was still someone Ruby cared enough about to want to really think about what to get.

"Whose name did you pick from Snow’s bowl?" Aurora peeked over Mulan’s shoulder as she read the paper. In a scribbling writing, the name Ariel could be read, accompanied by a stylized illustration of a fish with a smiling face.

Under the writing of her name and her drawing of a fish, Ariel had written, I can’t think of what I want, so just get me anything and I’ll add it to my collection!

"Ariel." Mulan answered, feeling something in her sink. Though the chances of it happening were very low, Mulan had hoped to pick Aurora’s name. This holiday was intimidating enough without the added worry of trying to think of a gift for someone relatively unfamiliar on top of figuring everything else out.

Facing something like this called for a different kind of courage. All of Mulan’s skill and fearlessness in battling ogres and beasts and men wouldn’t count for much in overcoming this particular obstacle.

Relax.” Kneading Mulan’s shoulders, Aurora planted a cheek-kiss that only made the flip and squirm of Mulan’s stomach all the worse. “Maybe a bracelet would be nice for her? Or perhaps a sculpture of undersea creatures. There must be some shop where they sell such things here.”

"Perhaps…" Mulan was doubtful about that, but chose to divert the conversation instead of dwelling on the worry. "What about you? Whose paper did you pick?"

"Belle," Aurora answered, "And all I know about her is that she’s quite fond of books. I’ll probably seek advice from Ruby on what gift might be appropriate."

That was a good idea. Asking those who were more familiar with the person. No doubt Belle would be able to give some good suggestions for what Ariel may appreciate. From where Mulan was sitting, she could see Ariel and Belle talking closely and laughing together. It was just going to have to be a matter of getting to talk to Belle alone. Perhaps while she was at work in the library, but preferably in the evening before closing time, so as not to interrupt her work.

"Oh, look! They’re starting to leave." Aurora grasped Mulan’s hand and led the way towards the door. "Ruby said they would be serving special holiday-themed meals starting today and there are still countless dishes of this world I’d like to try."

"But what about-"

Stopping in her tracks, Aurora turned around. “Mulan, we have majority of the month to think of gifts.” The hands she placed upon Mulan’s cheeks were soft and they did help with conjuring a relaxed feeling. “You can afford this first day to enjoy and learn their songs and try their food.”

Some of the songs were quite catchy. Mulan recalled one about a deer with an enchanted nose that led the way through blizzards.

"Alright?" Aurora prompted.

"You are right." Mulan was rewarded with a kiss that got her stomach twirling again but for more positive, lifting reasons this time.